Discovering the Middle East in Video Games
By Rick W. Hindi
While the Middle East hasn’t been a prominent backdrop in gaming narratives, a growing number of games have begun making their mark in recent years. Gaming has become a significant industry in the region, with more developers featuring characters and settings from the Middle East in their video games.
From bustling urban centres like Istanbul to Casablanca, you’ll find video game cafés adorned with the familiar PlayStation logo or life-sized posters of heavily armed characters promoting games like Call of Duty. In gaming tournaments, competitors from the Middle East have excelled, with some earning substantial prize money, such as Saudi gamer Mosaad al-Dossary, who earned over $560,000 in FIFA tournaments.
Despite gaming’s widespread popularity as a hobby in the Middle East, representation within video games has been lacking. Non-white protagonists are still scarce in leading roles, but this is gradually changing with titles like Yakuza and Life is Strange. Characters and settings from the Middle East are even rarer, often reduced to two-dimensional villains or anonymous targets for players to engage with.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this trend. Here are five video games that draw inspiration from the Middle East:
Prince of Persia: This iconic game series, dating back to 1989, gained mainstream attention with its 2003 “Sands of Time” reboot. It stands out as one of the few games featuring a Middle Eastern protagonist and a storyline set in the region. Despite a long hiatus, the franchise remains noteworthy, with an upcoming remake and an interesting standalone release in 2008.
Journey: In this game, you control an unnamed character traversing desert landscapes, interacting with other players through non-verbal communication. The game is rich in religious symbolism, creating an immersive and thought-provoking experience. Although not explicitly in the Middle East, I couldn’t help but wonder but link it to the terrain of Southern Jordan, from the desert steppes to the bitter mountains.
Assassin’s Creed Origins: The series initially ventured far from the Middle East, but it returned in 2017 with “Origins,” set in ancient Egypt. The story follows a desert patrolman named Bayek of Siwa, entangled in a conflict between the Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients. It also features an educational “discovery tour” mode, transforming the game into an interactive museum.
Heaven’s Vault: This game takes place in a North African/Middle Eastern-inspired setting and follows archaeologist Aliya Elasra as she unravels a hieroglyphic script of a lost civilization. Choices you make mould the protagonist’s personality, adding depth to the narrative.
Civilization VI: This turn-based strategy game includes the historical character Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire. The game successfully incorporates Middle Eastern figures and history into its gameplay, providing a well-rounded experience.
These games offer a glimpse into the potential for storytelling and representation in the gaming industry, highlighting the rich history and culture of the Middle East.
Tamatem Games is committed to helping the Arabic mobile gaming market reach its full potential. By localising popular mobile games, publishing original Arabic mobile games, supporting eSports, and investing in Arabic mobile game development, Tamatem Games is playing a key role in shaping the future of Arabic mobile gaming. Our most popular games include Fashion Queen, VIP Baloot and Battle of Kings. In addition, card players from across the MENA region have been enjoying our in-depth card game, VIP Jalsat.